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Philosopher or fart joker?

OPINION

  • Louis C.K.
Louis C.K.
September 29, 2013|By Stephen Markley, @stephenmarkley | For RedEye

For anybody left in the universe who hasn't seen Louis C.K.'s explanation about why he won't let his children have smartphones, do yourself a favor and watch that brilliant, melancholy, hilarious four-minute "Conan" clip.

This got me thinking about his particular brand of philosophical-observational comedy, siphoned off, distilled and repackaged from the likes of George Carlin, Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock and other giants of the genre. The thing is, I think C.K. is actually, really, indeed a genius in the same way the literary world sort of pretends famous novelists and literary theorists are.

This is not to say that novelists and theorists can't be brilliant, just that no one cares what they say. It's the whole "if a literary superstar falls in the forest" thing.

I'm thinking about this a lot because I'm back in school reading lit-tra-chure and grappling with tomes such as "Through Other Continents: American Literature Across Deep Time" by English and American studies giant Wai Chee Dimock.

However, it's pretty plain to see that literature, books, the novel—whatever you want to call it—no longer capture the popular imagination or explain the zeitgeist. Sure, every once in a while a boy wizard, a BDSM enthusiast or a teen vampire will sweep through the morning commute circuit, but none of this is what's being debated within the academy, to put it mildly.

Which brings me back to C.K.

In an atomized, globalized, fragmented culture, it's difficult to find many nexuses of popularity and genuine thoughtfulness. If, 100 years from now, English professors are rooting around for writers to study, they could do worse than expanding into stand-up comedy and becoming intimately acquainted with this brazen, reductive, working-class dad-looking comedian.

Count me as a fan who thinks his awesome FX show "Louie" is maybe the least impressive component of a body of work quickly becoming indispensably classic. His one-off talk show rants, including 2009's "Everything is amazing and nobody is happy" (from Conan's "Late Night" days), seem preposterously revelatory. His stand-up specials frequently become vicious deconstructions of race, class, religion and gender, from "God, I love being white" to "Why do women go out with us? Globally and historically, we're the No. 1 cause of injury and mayhem to women."

Beyond this always unexpected yet totally routine depth, the guy also happens to be one of the most entertaining human beings alive. Glancing at his disheveled nature, all gut, goatee and bald ginger head, you almost can't believe the command he has over an audience and his own presence. Yet that command is entirely intellectual, as he carries Seinfeldian observational humor out into the deep reaches of comedic time and space. He's what would happen if Friedrich Nietzsche was hilarious.

To prove my point by attempting to decimate it, C.K. once explained to Jon Stewart why farting is not low-brow, stupid humor and why it's still funny.

"It comes out of your ass," he said. "It smells like poop. And it makes a little trumpet noise. ... You don't have to be smart to laugh at farts, but you have to be stupid not to."

Wai Chee Dimock, get cracking on your next book.

RedEye special contributor Stephen Markley is the author of "The Great Dysmorphia" and "Publish This Book."

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